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How does the Phillies projected Opening Day bullpen compare to last season?

Connor Brogdon figures to be an importance piece of the Phillies bullpen in 2021 (Cheryl Pursell)

It’s no secret that the Philadelphia Phillies had a bullpen problem in 2020.

The team’s relievers had a combined 7.06 ERA – one of the worst in MLB history – and played a major role in keeping the Phillies out of the postseason for yet another season.

The Phillies bullpen performing so poorly was no surprise. Sure, a historically-bad season might not have been expected, but the team came into the season with just one major-league signing in Tommy Hunter. Their minor-league signings and non-roster invitees included the likes of Drew Storen, Bud Norris and Anthony Swarzak — none of whom were productive the season before.

This offseason, much of the team’s focus has been repairing that bullpen. The Phillies have invested in relievers both via free agency and trade in hopes that they can avoid another season full of late-game meltdowns.

Only one of the 10 relievers in the Phillies bullpen to start 2020 – Hector Neris —  is a lock to make this year’s Opening Day roster.

Five of these relievers – Deolis Guerra, Reggie McClain, Tommy Hunter, Trevor Kelley and Adam Morgan – signed minor league deals with other teams this offseason. The Phillies sent Austin Davis to the Pittsburgh Pirates and Cole Irvin to the Oakland Athletics. Jose Alvarez, who was the most consistent piece of the bullpen prior to a midseason injury, remains unsigned.

That leaves just Neris and Ramon Rosso – who is far from a lock to make this year’s big league roster – as members of that Opening Day bullpen who are still with the Phillies organization.

The three major midseason bullpen acquisitions in David Phelps, Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree are all rostered elsewhere as well. The Phillies also acquired David Hale, and he is currently on the 40-man roster, although that could change before the regular season.

JoJo Romero and Connor Brogdon, who both made an impact late in the 2020 season, appear to fit into the team’s bullpen moving forward. Brogdon in particular was impressive over the final two weeks of the season, when he pitched 8 1/3 innings and struck out 14 batters while allowing just one hit.

Top prospect Spencer Howard, who struggled across his six starts last year, also could fit into the Phillies bullpen plans after they bolstered their rotation depth this offseason.

The Phillies only guaranteed one deal to a relief pitcher in free agency, when they signed Archie Bradley to a one-year, $6 million deal. Bradley has been excellent since becoming a full-time reliever in 2017, and has a 2.95 ERA and 9.9 K/9 during that span.

They also acquired left-handed flamethrower Jose Alvarado, who is sure to slot in as a late inning reliever. Alvarado flashes elite stuff, although he has struggled to stay on the field — he has pitched in just 44 games over the past two seasons.

The rest of the bullpen could be made up of a number of minor-league signings the Phillies made in Hector Rondon, Brandon Kintzler and Tony Watson. They also traded for hard-thrower Sam Coonrod, who is on the 40-man roster and could compete for a spot in the bullpen.

Kintzler and Watson were productive in 2020 and pitched to ERAs of 2.22 and 2.50 respectively. They are a clear upgrade over the non-roster invitees from the prior season, and their presense in Clearwater is proof of the team’s desire to avoid a repeat of 2020.

The Phillies bullpen is certainly far from dominant on paper. But it is a far cry from the way it was rostered to start last season, and should no longer be the team’s biggest roadblock from success.


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